Dr Edward Hutchinson wins the 2021 Microbiology Outreach Prize

28 July 2021

The Microbiology Society is pleased to announce the winner of the Microbiology Outreach Prize 2021, Dr Edward Hutchinson from the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, for his project Virus Snowflakes.

The Prize is awarded annually by the Society to an individual or group of microbiologists who have undertaken an outstanding outreach initiative.

Virus Snowflakes is a low-cost, papercraft educational resource, explaining virus structures by repurposing traditional paper snowflake designs. For each design, a piece of paper is folded on itself, cut along a template, and when unfolded produces a complex 2D projection of a virus particle. The resource is freely available online.

Edward said of the award: “I’m delighted that the Microbiology Society has chosen Virus Snowflakes for this year’s Microbiology Outreach Prize. Communication about viruses and vaccines is currently more important than ever, and incredible and sophisticated resources for this have been developed by many people this year. I’m pleased that the Society has chosen to recognise something quite low-key and accessible: a simple craft activity which aims to show that, while viruses can sometimes be threatening, they are always fascinating. It means a lot to me that the Microbiology Society has highlighted this activity, as my own fascination with viruses grew through attending the Society’s conferences from the beginning of my career. It’s also great to be able to promote Virus Snowflakes this year, as the activity includes the message that by understanding the basic details of viruses, we can develop the vaccines that will bring even the most dangerous ones under control.”

Of particular importance in 2020, the pack included SARS-CoV-2 resources to help people to understand what was causing the pandemic and how control measures worked, in an accessible and non-alarming way. This pack has a design for the SARS-CoV-2 virus particle, as well as designs to explain the physical structures and mechanisms of action of the lipid nanoparticle and adenovirus-based vaccines, that are now in widespread use. The final design in the pack shows how SARS-CoV-2 is effectively neutralised by antibodies, relating the microbiological scale to the key message of ‘this is what the end of a pandemic looks like’.

In the future, Edward hopes that the Virus Snowflakes initiative will be expanded to include non-human viruses, such as plant viruses, bacteriophages and examples of viral symbioses.

One of Edward’s nominators, Prof Massimo Palmarini, said that “Ed has a real talent for developing innovative resources which engage people from a range of backgrounds in the research we do at the CVR. The popular Virus Snowflake activity he has created provides a way for people to access and explore knowledge about viruses in a new and fun way.”

Edward will be delivering a presentation on his outreach activities at the Society Showcase and AGM on 16 September 2021. All Microbiology Society members are invited to attend this year’s event. Find out more, including the day’s full schedule, on the event page.

To find out more about this Prize, please visit our website.

Image: MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research (2020).